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How high school seniors cope with mental health a year later | #television | #elderly | #movies

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When Tapestry High School senior Rachel Ross was 12, she’d spend her Friday nights binge-watching ‘80s movies with her mom. 

Prom, the senior ditch day, and graduation are American rites of passage dutifully documented on the screen. 

“I really got invested in those ‘80s, John Hughes, teen-type movies and a big part of them are going to the prom and graduating and having those things,” Ross said. “I was looking up to those things for so many years and then I finally get to the point where I could have had those things and then not really be able to — there’s definitely disappointment there.”

Despite longing to experience these things first hand, Rachel belongs to the one generation of American high schoolers, who spent a year learning to adapt to the changes stipulated by the COVID-19 pandemic in their classrooms instead of planning for their senior trip. 

Schools provide stability, connections to resources like food, counseling, peer support, and a routine for many students. 

The disruption of these has impacted teens differently with some feeling more isolated or developing symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

But the impact of the pandemic varies greatly for different teens, said Dr. Jess Shatkin, professor of Child Psychology and Pediatrics and vice chair of Education at The Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. 

“It’s going to depend upon what kind of structure and support they have, whether they’ve still been going to school, whether they have good internet, whether they’re hybrid, what their other activities are like, what their families are like, the constitution of who’s around the home — it’s highly variable,” Shatkin said. 

But insurance claims for mental and behavioral health for teens have gone up since the start of the pandemic, according to A FAIR Health white paper, published in March.

Ross, who is on a hybrid model where she goes to school on Mondays and Wednesdays and studies from home the rest of the week, is no stranger to these feelings. 

“[There are] experiences I’m sad that I’m not going to have the opportunity to have. I think no matter what there would be a sense of, ‘oh, I wish there was a little bit more time,’ but now there really is less time than there should have been,” Ross said. “There’s a little bit of a sense of sadness around that and anxiety around not knowing what my first year of college is going to look like.”

Even before the stressors of the pandemic, high school and college students were already at a greater risk for developing mental health conditions. Half of all chronic mental illness starts at 14 and three-fourths start by age 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Only about 10% of American schools have some sort of mental health programming — that could be a full-time psychologist or a social worker, who is half-time who does five schools,” Shatkin said. “It varies a great deal, we don’t have national standards on it, but what we do know is that 50% of kids during their high school years met the requirements for psychiatric diagnosis.” 

Not only are high school and college-aged students more in need of mental health services, but they also perform better at their classwork when schools have mental health programming. A meta-analysis showed that students grade performance increases with mental health promotion in schools. 

Ross, like many high schoolers, is battling the anxiety of graduating in a pandemic and the loss of celebrations like prom, graduation and the time spent with friends.

But while the necessary restrictions to contain the virus robbed her of those things, it also gave Ross an awareness of how fragile life is. 

“I look to those movies at the same time, well you know I couldn’t have it myself, but I still have these experiences,” she said. “I can watch these movies and it’s not going to be the same, but these movies mean a lot to me and these are experiences I can live through that.” 

Help is available, for a more in-depth look at local resources in the region, click here.

Rachel Ross contributed to this video. Camalot mentors her at Tapestry High School through Report For America.

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